Tuesday, November 29, 2011

California IV

I think that for we of the Vietnam generation, Salinas, California is imbedded in our collective memory forever. Probably due to Janis Joplin's hit of Me and Bobby McGee; "Somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away, looking for that home, and I hope she finds it" A song that speaks to loneliness and isolation that just might touch a nerve in a soldier thousands of miles from family and loved ones.

When I discovered that I was only 45 minutes from Salinas, I decided to stop by to see what they might have and was amazed to find this remarkable site.

It is the only one I have seen, out of several hundred so far, that has as its main component a sandbag wall. As familiar as this would be to any 'Nam vet, it just doesn't turn up too often and this is by far the largest one I have seen. This flag lined wall is fronted by a Vietnam Service Ribbon, and has a huge Flag Wall with names of local heroes inscribed upon it sitting just behind it. In addition, school children have made and placed ceramic mosaic tiles with various sentiments upon them. This, too, I think is unique. I have not seen many other sites where children have been highly involved. The only other one I can think of right off hand is the previously posted Connecticut memorial.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm taking a break today to spend time with family and friends. I hope all of you are too. While giving thanks today, in whatever manner you do so, remember to be thankful that you made it back!

Take a moment to be thankful that we have young men and women, all over the world willing to be away from their homes and, possibly, make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I think one of the silver linings of Vietnam is that we have learned not to blame the soldier for decisions made by others. Whatever your views are on this war or that, remember those who are away, and most likely very homesick, this Thanksgiving 2011.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

California III

There last few shots highlight some of the remaining components of the site. As promised earlier, the first and second shots are of the dedication plaque and statue. The plaque below the statue gives some info on each of the elements within the memorial.

The third shot is of a map of Vietnam. It is pretty detailed with names of many familiar places. A compass rose is located nearby.

The fourth pic is of a plaque placed above the map reminding us of the most infamous of the prison camps in 'Nam and what these heroes withstood.

The last pic is of a fairly well known poem by Maj. Michael O'Donnell included here so that we might always remember.

"Take what they have left you
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own

And in that time when men decide
and feel safe
to call the war insane

Take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
You left behind"

It seems fitting to me that the California memorial should be grand. California lost more of her sons and daughters to this effort than any other state; 5822 lost or missing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

California II

Once inside the memorial, the story of "a day in the life" is told through additional statuary and Bas Relief panels. The young soldier, reading his letter from home is surrounded by the realities of his current life and the war. Even though we referred to all else as "the world" thus making 'Nam not real, we knew what the reality really was and they are depicted here for all to see.

The first picture is of an unidentified POW as it sits wondering about his fate at the Hanoi Hilton, sitting next to him (picture two) is what is usually an empty bowl. The night before my visit it had rained and filled the bowl with water. I could not help but think about the conditions these heroes survived and the "food" they were given. The water made me think of a thin gruel that may have been a days ration.

Picture three is of some of the things guys might have had or treasured while in country. It took me a minute to realize that the figure in the back is a short timers calender of the dancing Snoopy! Snoopy and short timer calendars, along with the Huey chopper are some of the most iconic symbols of the time! For those who may not know, a short timers calendar was used by guys who were down to 100 days left in country. Like the religious Advent calendars some use, each day was marked off until you reached number one and were going home, back to "The World" These took any number of forms. Often something meaningful to the particular G.I. but more often something iconic, like Snoopy or something somewhat more graphic. Those who were there know and for the rest I'll let you imagine.

Picture 4 and 5 are of a couple of the daily life depictions from around the memorial. I think they require no explanation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran' Day 11-11-11

I never anticipated, all those 43 years ago, that today I would be dedicating much of my life to vets. This effort to see, record, and honor Vietnam memorials started out about me and began many years after trying to forget, ignore and act as if 'Nam had never happened. Driven by whatever I was still carrying around from 'Nam, I began searching out these sites and posting them and discovered that I was actually helping other vets. I have heard from many, from all over the world, that they have benefited from the same realization that I had; that America had found a way to to say, "Hey guys, we didn't really mean all that stuff we said" and finally, long over due, "Welcome Home" I spent part of this trip on Ft. Bragg and I can't help but wonder as I think about all these young soldiers I saw, what will their lives be like 43 years from now? How will they be remembered and honored? What struggles will they have faced? What will we as Americans have done to help them through their trials? So, with that in mind, to all my brothers and sisters who made it back, let's be sure we do not abandon them, as we were abandoned and, also, be sure to take a moment to remember and honor those who did not make it home with us.

These pics are of the Moving Wall which was in Veteran's Park in Fayetteville as part of their Vietnam Veteran's Welcome Home events this week. I usually try to take pictures without people in them, but I really liked these, especially the two guys finding a name on The Wall.

Veteran's Day 2011/ 11-11-11

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I think it is time to move on from New Hampshire. I have some more photos from there and will post them at a later time.

Kate Wolf used to sing about the golden rolling hills of California and I have traveled through many of them. If I were to write only about California until I had posted every where I have gone, I would be on the subject for months! I have been as far north as Grass Valley (I hope to get further up in the state but it has not happened as of yet) and down to the Mexican border. I have gone as far east as Chirico Summit and Nevada City and west to Coronado. So, I will limit how many I post at this time, but will return from time to time to fill in the missed places.

As always, I will begin with the official state memorial. Located on the Capitol grounds, at 15th and Capitol ave. in Sacramento it is one of the most interesting I have visited. It tells a story. A story of a day in a life of a soldier in 'Nam.

The memorial is made up of a number of components and I expect it will take three postings to tell its story.

Today, a few of the basics.

The first picture is of the memorial, note the panels that are inscribed with the 5822 names of those lost or missing. Each of these is listed in a grouping from his/her home town along with their rank and branch of service. A number of benches are placed around the outside for quiet reflection.

The second picture is of a 19 year old soldier reading a letter from home. Those who were there remember that there was no time of day more anticipated than mail call and the joy of hearing from someone back in the world, and the disappointment of not!

Picture three was taken during a night visit to the site. I think it is especially compelling as some unknown visitor has inserted a photograph into the soldiers letter. One must imagine that the person who left it suffered great loss during the war. If not 'Nam, perhaps another!

Picture 4 is part of the dedication marker more of which I will post later.

Picture 5 is a tribute to Brien Collins who lost an arm and a leg during his second tour of 'Nam. He went on to serve in government for three governors and as an Assemblyman. He was a driving force in the building of this memorial and is quoted as saying;

Is the world a better place because you were here?
Did you make a difference?

He seems to me to be a man to remind us of our fortune and abilities and of what can be accomplished if we choose to make it happen.

More, next time, on this magnificent site.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Hampshirw VIII

On the way back to Manchester Airport, we passed this small memorial site. I took some pics and we headed home. I either never noted what town we were in or have completely forgotten. I figured this site was lost to me as I had no info to give on it. I spent hours trying to track it down on the net and even retracing my route on Google maps, hoping to find it from their photos. Nothing. I asked friends in New Hampshire and they were unable to pinpoint it for me.

Then, I realized that there was a name of a company on one of the benches. I looked up the name and discovered that it was a company in Massachusetts. I wrote them with very little hope of anyone there being able to help or that they would even respond. Well, within 10 minutes of my email, someone from the company called me. He explained that the memorial was in a town called Enfield. He said that the CEO of the company was from Enfield and wanted to do something. He designed the site and the company helped to pay for it. So, I went from believing that I would never find the info I needed to having a complete story in 15 minutes! Amazing! This journey I am on never ceases to astound me. The story just seems to unfold and I get to be the guy to tell it!

Next, I am going to move on from New Hampshire and pick up across country in California. You may recall the post about Tom Schomberg's memorial in Denver (July/Aug 2011) that lead to Ireland and back. I want to fill in some additional information in that story. So, join me next in The Golden State on November 9th as always, at 9am.